King Philipp II and the Philippines


The age of the discoveries 

We are in the 16th century. It is the age of the letterpress and the humanism, the large dynasties and religious wars, the worldwide expeditions and the foundation of colonies. Central power factor in Europe is the empire of Charles V., the king of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Its territory ("In my Empire the sun doesn't go down”) extends over the Spanish kingdoms Aragón and Castellania, Burgundy, the Italian kingdom of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia,  the Netherlands and the Austrian Hapsburg Empire as well as the gigantic areas conquered by Cortez and Pizzaro in South and Central America. The absolute monarch Charles V., father of Philipp II, still sees himself as a  representative of God and "defensor ecclesiae" in a Christian world, in which church and empire form a unit.  

Spanish-Portuguese rivalries about colonies 

New ship types, improved navigational instruments and firearms have now made possible the seizure of distant countries which attract by the possibility of a lucrative spice trade, and deposits of gold and silver. In 1492 Columbus discovers America in the name of the Spanish King. The competing Portuguese established also armed basis at the coast of Africa and in India and they intend to take hold of foot in South America. Already in this early phase of the colonialization there is a dispute between the two kingdoms, who is entitled to colonize which part of the world. Both countries agree in 1493 to a demarcation line which was suggested by pope Alexander VI.. It is running west of the Cape Verde Islands. Areas west of this line should belong to Spain, whereas areas east from this line should belong to the Portuguese zone of influence. There is also a general agreement that the demarcation line should also be drawn around the polar caps in direction of South East Asia. But in such times the geographical knowledge was fragmentary and the nautical measurements inaccurate. It is still unknown, what countries could still be expected.  

In 1511 the Portuguese establish Malacca as trade base and place of transhipments in Southeast Asia. They trade with sandalwoods from Timor, sugar cane from the Philippines, silk and porcelain from China, gold and ivory from Sumatra, opium, clothes, dyes from India, - and especially with spices from the Mukluk's and Sumatra. The philosopher Sloterdijk points out  the fabulous profit margins of the spice trade and he writes: "It is possible to say that the spice trade has been the drug traffic of the ending Middle Ages" (1). Spain wants also participates in the trade with spices, because the noble metals and valuables brought from Central America not covering the costs of expensive wars in Europe. However, Portugal blocks the east route  to Southeast Asia via Cap Horn. 

Magellan reaching the Philippines 

The Portuguese Magellan offers in 1517 his services to the Spanish king. Already since 1506 he attended several Portuguese research and armed forces expeditions which led him also to the Mukluk's. But later he was ignored by the Portuguese king because of an alleged misdemeanour. It is not excluded, that he knew something about the existence of the Philippine archipelago by his translator Enrique, who is supposed to be a Cebuano. Magellan is convinced that the earth has the shape of a sphere and that it is possible to reach India and the Spice Islands by taking a west route passing the Atlantic and America. He succeeds in convincing the Spanish king of his plans. The king offers him five ships and 270 crew members and officers. The German Fuggers finance a part of the expedition costs. 

As a Spanish citizen Magellan starts in 1519 his difficult world tour.  It is full of full of privation especially as he doesn't calculate with the enormous spaciousness of the Pacific ocean. Perhaps Stefan Zweig (2) described in his novel to the best the immense difficulties and tortures Magellan and his crew had to suffer. A part of the officers and crew member mutiny against him. Another captain flees with his ship to Spain again. In a  storm another galleon sinks and the foods become scarce. It is reported that the crew ate sawdust, leather-belts and rats in their despair. After passing the later called Street of Magellan he  reaches in March 1521 the coast of the island Samar with three ships.  He calls the found islands “Islas de San Lazaro”, because the day of his arrival was the day of Saint Lazarus. A friendly name, a little bit earlier he had given the Marianas Islands in the Pacific the name "Islas de Landrones" ("Island of  Thieves”) because of  special incidents.  

What could be said about the conditions of the islands in such former days? The archipelago is sparsely populated. There is an estimation, that on arrival of the Spaniards is only just a million people. The residents have a very different ethnic background and live mainly in extended families and scattered communities (barangays). There are local restricted political communities with chieftains ("datus") and sometimes representatives of hereditary nobility on the top. Slaves are also hold. The predominant majority of the population follows an agricultural occupation or are fishermen. Cultural traditions are passed down by mouth, animistic religious persuasions are prevailing.  But it should also be mentioned, that around 1380 the Islam takes hold of foot in the south of Mindanao and the first sultanates were founded. Even in the area of later Manila, Legazpi will meet some decades later a Moslem ruler named Rajai Suluman.   

About Magellan's short-term activities in and around Cebu a lot of literature can be found. Here only some short notes: 

   He arranged a pact with Rajah Colambu and settled a blood brotherhood with chief Seripalda Humabon

   Celebration of first Holy Mass in Cebu, handing over of the Santo Nino figure (3) and mass baptisms

   Death of Magellan caused by own negligence after two months of stay in the fight against Mactan chieftain Lapu-Lapu    

Stefan Zweig acknowledged him as follows: " In obvious contrast to the Cortez and Pizarros which immediately let their  bloodhounds loose and which slaughter the population in a barbarous way  and enslaved them, Magellan tried from the beginning to achieve the annexion of the new provinces by kindness and contracts and not with blood and force ... Magellan kept treaties with every chief strictly and loyally up to his hour of his death; this honesty was his best weapon and is his permanent fame" (4).

Failed expeditions 

After Magellan's death general captain Sebastian del Cano takes over the leadership of the remained ships. Before the departure from the Philippines the galleon "Conception" is burned on purpose since the 115 surviving can only lead two ships. The "Trinidad" takes a west-course, is intercepted by the Portuguese, however. Most members of the crew meet death. The  "Victoria" has more luck. It takes under the command of captain Juan Sebastian Elcano, a former mutineer, the east-route via Cape Horn. After three years the ship arrives 1522 in Sevilla with only 18 survivors. Magellan experienced the circumnavigation of the world at different times. The "Victoria" is the first galleon to circumnavigate the world in one phase of time. The spices which the ship brought to Spain cover the expedition costs many times. 

It 1525, 1526, 1527 from New-Spain (Mexico) further, however unsuccessful expeditions follow. If they reach the archipelago, their return to Mexico frequently fails due to adverse wind conditions so that they have to steer for ports of the hostilely oriented Portuguese on the Mukluk's. The Portuguese protest against these expeditions because they pretend that the archipelago is part of her territory. 

The contract of Saragossa 

In 1529 the contract of Tordesillas is revised by the contract of Saragossa because the Portuguese also want to get a larger piece of the cake  America (Brazil). Now the line of demarcation is drawn further west. For a compensation sum of 350.00 gold ducats Spain transfers his "claims" of the Mukluk's and the Philippines to the Portuguese. Ten years later – on the basis of more exact measurements - it is discovered that the wily fox Charles V. sold areas to the Portuguese which didn't belong to him. Following the demarcation line the sold areas have always been part of the influence zone of the king of Portugal. The king of Portugal feels taken by surprise, while Charles V. has been pleased for a long time about the sale. Henceforth the Spaniards respect the regulations referring to the Mukluk's, however – regardless of contract – they have an unchanged interest in the Philippine archipelago. Wit regard to the following expeditions to the Philippines the Spaniards proceed very carefully and with a bad conscience. Only in 1579 when Philipp II. also becomes king of Portugal, the situation is clearly regulated in favour of the Spaniards.  

Villalobos expedition and naming by Bernando de La Torre 

Furthermore in the context of his world-wide imperialism Charles V. wants to have a southeast Asian base on the “Islas de San Lazaro”( the Philippines) and orders his Spanish viceroy in Mexico to organize once more an expedition. 

Now in the year 1542 Ruy Lopez de Villalobos starts with four ships in direction of island archipelago. After one year on sea  they land in the south of Mindanao, but they meet a bitter resistance of the “Moros”, as the Spaniards call the resident Moslems there. Because they could find only "cats, dogs, rats, grey lizards and unknown plants", as food, they start in direction of Luzon. On their way to Luzon Bernando de la Torre calls the islands of Samar and Leyte "Islas Felipinas" in honour of the Spanish crown prince's Philipp of Asturia, the later Philipp II. Later he becomes the name patron of the complete island archipelago. But also here more north they meet hostile attitudes of the native “Indios”. Villalobos sends three of his ships back to Mexico to get more food and ammunition. The three ships capsize, however, shortly after leaving the islands. Now Villalobos decides to sail with his last ship to the port of Ambonia, which is located in Portuguese area. In 1544 they surrender and the Portuguese incarcerate captain and crew. Two years later Captain Ruy Lopez de Villalobos dies in deep melancholy.  It will take another 22 years until the next Spaniard tries again to conquer the "Islas Felipinas" for the kingdom. 

The permanent wars against the Spanish Moros, the Turks, the Frenchmen, Netherlander and the "Lutheran heretics" wear Charles V. down. In deep resignation he submits the Spanish sceptre to his son Philipp II. and retreats for the last two years of his life into a lonesome cloister.  

The regency of Philipp II. 

Philipp II. W as an educated man who was open-minded with regard to the arts and intellectual trends of his time. But he was also  a fundamental Roman Catholic, an eager advocate of the Counter-Reformation, supporter of the Inquisition and declared Moslem opponent. He expelled merciless even Christianised Moslems from Spanish ground. The gloomy, distrustful king, who likes to dress black, laughed very seldom.  Philipp II. is a friend of the bureaucracy and uses his royal court as a nearly impenetrable  protecting wall. He  wants to decide almost everything, but he is very hesitant in his decisions, so important decision processes are delayed. In his study room a daily Mass is hold. The Spaniards call him "El Prudente" (the clever man ), for his opponents he is a "Spanish devil". He is married four times, because all his wives ( included Maria of England)  – and most children – die untimely.  

Already at assumption of his office's post he has to notice that the administration of the Empire is badly organized and that the treasury has again not enough money. Secret plans are again developed to colonize the Philippines in permanence. It is the intention to have a base in the islands with regard to the attractive China business, to exploit the treasures of the country and - religious motives play also an important part in Phillip's considerations – to convert the heathen to the catholic belief. In case the Portuguese should get knowledge of the expedition, the argument should be, that it is searching for left Spaniards from former expeditions to bring them home.   

Permanent Colonization by Legazpi 

44 years after the discovery of the Philippines by Magellan,  Miguel Lopez de Legazpi reaches the archipelago in 1565 with a fleet of five ships and only 380 men. He lands at Cebu, but the natives put up resistance against him, because they made bad experiences before with Portuguese. He orders to shoot at the town. In the mess the statue of Santo Nino given by Magellan is found again in a burning house. This "miracle" makes the conversion efforts of the monks easier.  

Legazpi conquers relatively fast island for island of the Philippine archipelago; Mindanao and the northern regions however remained for centuries unoccupied. He gives peaceful means the priority. In a letter from 1567 he is writing to Philipp II. :  " If we should make war upon these peoples, I think that great harm would ensue, but little advantage would be gained, and we should suffer hardships greater than those which have been suffered, although they have been bad enough”. And in later letter to the same addressee he formulates: I believe that these natives could be easily subdued by good treatment and the display of kindness." (5)

On the other side he doesn't shun the use of warlike weapons. This especially happens in 1571 at the conquest of Manila. The  Moslem chieftain does not want to capitulate and explains in the face of the violent conquest: "We wish to be friends of all nations. But they must understand that we cannot tolerate any abuse. On the contrary, we will repay with death the least thing that touches our honour”. Some Philippine historians consider this remark as first expression of patriotic feelings  on Philippine side and they say that Rajah Sulaiman should have at least the same rank as Lapu-Lapu in the gallery of the national heroes.  

Correspondence between Legazpi and Philipp II. 

The judgment of the Filipinos by Legazpi isn't always flattering. We quote from his letters to Philipp II.:  " they are a people extremely vicious, fickle, untruthful and full of superstitions  ... The inhabitants of these islands are not subjected to any law, king or lord  ...  These people declare war among themselves at the slightest provocation ...  the natives are the laziest people in the world ...  they do not even try to become wealthy ...  their idleness surpass their covetousness (6) ". He further reports that they can be easily converted to the Holy Roman Catholic Faith with the exception of the Moslems. The fast conversion has made the colonization of the islands easier. Sometimes it is reported that the Filipinos have accepted peacefully the colonial power of the Spaniards. However, it should be mentioned that there have been uprisings and rebellions again and again at different places in smaller scale during the whole Spanish colonial period.  

More disappointing for Philipp II. however, may have been the report of Legazpi regarding the mineral resources of the Islands: "More or less gold is found on these islands; it is obtained from the rivers and, in some places, from the mines, which the natives work. However, they do not work the mines steadily, but only when forced by  necessity " and in another letter: "But there is only a small quantity of gold by reason of there being no headman or great lords among them .... If the mines were worked steadily and carefully by the Spaniards, they would yield a great quantity of gold all the time ...  At present cinnamon is the only article in the land from which we can derive profit” (7)According to the writing tradition of his time Legazpi kisses on the end of the letter "hands and feet" of his Roman Catholic Majesty. 

The correspondence from Philipp II. to Legazpi is also handed down. Philipp particularly praises the sensitive politics of Legazpi a letter from 1568: "You have done very well, and we charge and order you to continue the same, striving by all good means to attract the natives to the service of God our Lord and mine, and to the love and friendship which they ought to have with you and with the Spaniards who reside with you ...  you shall have especial care in furthering the conversion of the Indian natives of that country to our holy Catholic faith, and their good treatment; for that is most important to the service of God our Lord and mine " (8). Also the Moslems or Moros should be converted with peaceful means. Philipp II. Gives Legazpi however, the permission to enslave and to expropriate those Moslems, who prevent the preaching of the Gospel. Here we see his dogmatism and the radicalness of his thinking as a Catholic. With this instruction King Philipp II. initiates the for centuries lasting war against the Moslems in the south.    

Despite the later starting galleon trade between China and Mexico with Manila as an exclusive turntable the Philippines apparently weren't profitable. The Spanish administration bureaucracy and armed forces in Manila have been subsidized in changing size by the viceroy in Mexico. It is known, that the Council of the Indies in Madrid several times asked  Philipp II. To give up the Philippines in favour of Brazil. A Philippine historian quotes the reaction of Philipp II, which was supported by the priests: "Even if the income of those islands were not enough to support one hermit, and if there were one there to keep the name and the veneration of Jesus Christ alive, I would send missionaries from Spain to spread His gospel. Looking for mines of precious metals is not the only business of kings!”(9). This remark shows, that the colonization of the Philippines is also based on strong religious motives.

Legazpi, also called “El Adelantado" (“the forward striding”), lays subsequently with only approx. 2000 Spaniards and Mexican Mestizos (under this 400 clergyman) the foundations for the 250-years lasting colonization of the Philippines. In 1569 he becomes general governor of the Philippines. An administration system is built up, which gives the native “Indios” only on the lowermost local level some rights of decision. To sailors and soldiers in the service of the Spanish crown “Encomiendas" are given for 2 – 3 years, which oblige the natives to contributions and taxes. The Spanish language becomes the official language, but is not a general language of communication  like in Middle and South America. The "Indios” are getting Spanish names and a book censorship is established in 1556. No book in the Philippines can be printed without consent of the of royal Council of the Indies and the representatives of  the Inquisition.  

The monks have a key-role in administration especially outside of Manila. They are at the local level in personal union parish priests, registrars, tax collectors, educationalists and election supervisors. Their orders accumulate landholding and become to a power factor in the country. Later the expression “frailocracia” ( rule of monks) is coined, to characterize the special distribution of power.  

General governor Legazpi dies 1572 in Manila. It is told that he had not any considerable fortune. His customer and ruler Philipp II must accept sobering defeats in the course of his reign. He fails with the conquest of England  (defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588) and he doesn't manage the rebellious Netherlands. The many waged wars in his period of reign  of office overtax the economy- and financial power of the country and introduce the decline of the Spanish world power.  

Delicate inheritance of name? 

We turn to the presence. Filipinos and Filipinos are undoubtedly colonial names. Namibia, Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe, for example, found in the context of her independence to new names. There have been and there are Filipinos, which feel stigmatized by the “Philippines” or “Filipino”, because these names would reflect the victory of the Spaniards. Ex-president  Marcos also wanted to rename the Philippines in "Maharlika", the name of a guerrilla unit, which he allegedly commanded in the Second World War. But Marcos could not gain acceptance. The historian Nathan Quimpo (10) talks of an "ego trip" of Marcos. It is more understandable, if Filipinos, which are Moslem decline the country's name, because Philipp II. was anyway a Roman Catholic hardliner which fought the Islam. "Why do we name ourselves after the king who ordered our enslavement?”, asks Alunan C. Glang. And he continues: "Why do Moslems resent being called Filipinos? Well, for the same reason that Filipinos would probably refuse to rename the country after the infamous World War II Japanese General Yamashita” (11). On the other hand millions of Filipinos have identified themselves with the country's name in the meantime, have moved to wars and partly died in the name of country. We would like to assume that the country's name for many has come loose from the original patron and has now accumulated independent value qualities. A population survey could clarify this assertion. 

© Wolfgang Bethge, in 2004

(1)  Peter Sloterdijk, Philosophische Aspekte der Globalisierung, in: 

(2)   Stefan Zweig, Magellan, Der Mann und seine Tat, Frankfurt, 2003

(3)   See: also:   W. Bethge, The Statue of Santo Nino: Popular Symbol of Devoutness   

(4)   Stefan Zweig, Magellan, Der Mann und seine Tat, Frankfurt, 2003, p.227

(5)  Legazpi character from Cebu to Philipp II, in: The Spaniards roof ridge 50 years in The Philippines, 1565-1615: A sourcebook, in:

(6)   Legazpi character from Cebu to Philipp II, in: The Spaniards roof ridge 50 years in The Philippines, 1565-1615: A sourcebook, in:

(7)  Legazpi character from Cebu to Philipp II, in: The Spaniards roof ridge 50 years in The  Philippines, 1565-1615: A sourcebook, in:

(8)   Legazpi character from Cebu to Philipp II, in: The Spaniards roof ridge 50 years in The Philippines, 1565-1615: A sourcebook, in:

(9) A short Philippine History, in: / A short Philippine History.htm

(10)  Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, Colonial name, Colonial Mentality and Ethnocentrism, in: KASANA, Vol. 17, No.3/4

(11)  quoted after: Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, Colonial name, Colonial Mentality and Ethnocentrism, in: KASANA, Vol. 17, No.3/4